Jewish identi-kit(h)

A question often raised on this blog is “What is Jewish identity?” Religious commitment, especially of the Orthodox variety, is easy to understand, but what is a Jewish atheist? Some commenters here have argued that there is really little more to it than a few comfort foods and a nominal holiday or two – and even those are essentially religious. Phil talks about distinctive culture (bookishness, humour, Yiddishisms), values (education, civil rights) and a sense of tribal affinity or kinship. He also talks about an inculcated sense of superiority, which could easily be filed under any of these headings. But how much of this is really “Jewish,” and how long can it last beyond the immigrant generations and their memories of unique (primarily religious, but also linguistic) Jewish cultures in the shtetl, ghetto, melah or juderia? The element of “kinship” might offer some answer, but without specific content, it is just a club?

Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan argued (see e.g. Questions Jews Ask [New York:1956], 3-73) that in an age in which observance of Jewish ritual is on the decline and there is nothing particularly distinctive about “Jewish” values or beliefs, the idea of Jewish peoplehood offers the only lasting basis for Jewish identity and Jewish life. In Kaplan’s view, peoplehood includes “awareness of a common history and a common destiny” and a shared set of “sancta” (“texts, heroes, objects, places and events”), while recognising significant diversity between different Jewish groups and streams. Kaplan was a Zionist, and viewed the establishment of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine as essential to Jewish survival in the post-Rabbinic era, although he was more of a cultural Zionist, along the lines of Ahad Ha’am and Judah Magnes. As a matter of fact, he and the Reconstructionist movement he founded had a complete programme for the “reconstitution of the Jewish People,” of which Zionism (without displacing the indigenous population of Palestine!) was only a part.

I see nothing wrong with the idea of peoplehood in and of itself – Shlomo Sand notwithstanding. I also identify with Phil’s feeling that his activism is related, in part, to his concern for his fellow Jews, which is why I am so pained by the fact that “my people” would appear to have put all of its identity eggs in two equally disastrous baskets (a single basket with two compartments?): Israel and anti-Semitism (or more specifically, the Holocaust). I don’t think I need to go into why these two dominant components of Jewish consciousness are so destructive. Let it suffice to say that a sense of ethnic destiny (see Sand) and a culture of victimhood are a noxious mix that can only end badly for Jews and non-Jews alike. So what are the alternatives? Is religion alone (even one in which one does not believe) really not enough? How about the construction of a just and democratic state in Israel/Palestine? Would the very presence of non-Jews “spoil” it all, or would learning to interact in a moral fashion with those we have wronged and oppressed not provide the very opportunity for growth and improvement that we are denied when we view ourselves primarily as entitled victims? The possibility certainly echoes elements of Jewish tradition and the work of modern Jewish philosophers such as Buber, Levinas and Hermann Cohen who were, in turn, influenced by that tradition.

To address a couple of the thoughts raised by Phil’s previous post, I don’t believe there is necessarily a contradiction between considering all people one’s “kin” and having a specific tribal identity – or rather a number of tribal identities. I consider Jews part of my tribe, but I also consider Palestinians part of my tribe, in a way that just doesn’t work for Finns or Indios – as much as I may feel various other sorts of kinship with them, first and foremost as human beings. Second, I think too much is made of the supposed negative effects of Jewish “historical” holidays (Passover-Purim-Hannukah) and the emphasis they place on oppression and salvation. These holidays are and can be filled with so much positive meaning, that the core narrative of the holiday need not have any nasty side-effects that kids (and adults) can’t handle. That is unless of course they are manipulated to serve a specific ideological and political end, which is indeed what has happened in Zionist education in Israel and abroad.  As with peoplehood, it’s all about content.

About Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel

Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel is a Canadian-Israeli translator living in Italy.
Posted in Israel/Palestine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

{ 41 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Identity is constructed by subjective sentiment, NOT by any objective criteria. It doesn’t matter what clothes, food, language one adopts.

    If one regards themselves as a Jew, and has any substantive relationships with other Jews, then they are a Jewish person.

    You cited that there are two primary references to Jewish identity currently, a bad investment you referred I think. Israel and anti-Semitism .

    I don’t see those as constructing my Jewish identity. They are entirely secondary.

    • LeaNder says:

      Richard, if antisemitism is entirely secondary to your identity, why did you not so long ago address us — to revive your now vanished term– the “right/left posse”, claiming we do not understand your experiences of persecution? What would they be based on but antisemitism?

      I think these your specific persecution experiences would be an interesting topic for your blog. I at least would be highly interested.

      Another thing comes immediately to mind. A long time ago when we first met netwise you suggested that the topic Phil created Mondoweiss for is strictly a topic that should be only discussed in Jewish circles. Now what besides the experience and/or suspicion of antisemitism all around could have been the reason for that position?

      • Citizen says:

        Witty felt persecuted when a couple of young US Military recruiters ignorantly came up his sidewalk–he has a son you know. Essentially he told them to take their pimping elsewhere. Of course he didn’t use the workd “pimping.” If that’s not persecution, what is?

        Can’t wait to hear Mister Witty respond to your second question. I won’t hold my breath.

      • Leander,
        I don’t have a clue what you are referring to. Maybe you inferred something in a post of mine that wasn’t there.

        The point is that the “anti” or “protection” themes are NOT what constructs my Jewish identity. Its not even ethics, ideology, or environment. Its more intimate.

        Its of my home, of my person, of my soul.

        Its much more progressive to just accept.

        • LeaNder says:

          I don’t have a clue what you are referring to.

          surely not Richard. It was either here during the blogs early life or on Realistic Dove. But yes, I can understand you don’t remember.

        • Citizen says:

          The word “soul” means anything from your emotional state to some sort of undefined second part of you (not your physical body) that supposedly exists after you’re dead.

          Like all other superstitions, you really can’t pin it down or apply it to anything real. How is it “progressive.” in fact “much more progressive” to just accept your soul Witty, or anyone’s? What do you mean by using the word “progressive” here? Is the concept of “soul” a progressive term?

        • Acceptance of others’ self-definition is progressive.

          In contrast to attempted coercion.

  2. pabelmont says:

    To the question, what is “Jewish identity”, I make my personal answer here:

    As a secular Jew of no “Jewish” culture except [1] love/respect/involvement of/for/with books, learning, argumentation (which could be merely traits of any educated parents, perhaps a Chinese trait), [2] love and involvement with classical European chamber music (which could be, for example, a German or Russian or nowadays a Chinese or Japanese or Korean trait), [3] a strong sense of the importance of speaking and otherwise acting to promote human rights and civil rights (traits not unknown outside Jewish circles), and [4] a sense of “being Jewish” (Hitler would have said so) (and having lots of relatives who consider themselves Jewish), LET ME SAY that the Jewish involvement in protecting human rights and civil rights seems a bit exaggerated (at least as a near-universal rather than a “sometime thing” trait) as we go into 43rd year of the occupation with a dismal record of Jewish failure to denounce Israeli lawlessness (to say nothing of the Israeli lawlessness itself).

    I grew up knowing of the Holocaust but was never hit over the head with it and regard it as a TRAGEDY for Jews along with Gypsies and many, many others, and as CRIME for the German government and, likely, a proportion (which I don’t know how to assess) of the German people of 1933-45. One uncle of mine served in the US Army and died in WWII; another uncle served in the USAF and survived.

    I married a Palestinian and regard the I/P conflict as a TRAGEDY for the Palestinians and a CRIME by a succession of Israeli governments (and US governments serving as facilitators) and, as well, a crime by parts of the Israeli and USA people, the proportion of which I don’t know how to assess. (However, as time passes, the proportion of Israeli citizens who “go along” with what the Israeli army and government do seems extremely high, not at all a minority phenomenon, and the proportion of American Jews who protest seems a very small minority. Perhaps all these Jews have failed to become aware of the sort of information which this BLOG publishes, I don’t know.

    So, my principal “Jewish identity” (as I see it) lies in making statements of the sort that I make here. Pretty weak stuff, that.

  3. MRW says:

    Excellent thoughtful piece, Shmuel, that stands waving its hand, pointing out ‘hey, there’s another way to think about all this that isn’t mired in worn-out, and accepted, habit’. This is the essence for me: Would the very presence of non-Jews “spoil” it all, or would learning to interact in a moral fashion with those we have wronged and oppressed not provide the very opportunity for growth and improvement that we are denied when we view ourselves primarily as entitled victims? That, and As with peoplehood, it’s all about content.

    • LeaNder says:

      I agree MRW, it’s very, very good. I think the whole third paragraph is important.

      As is this:
      I consider Jews part of my tribe, but I also consider Palestinians part of my tribe, in a way that just doesn’t work for Finns or Indios – as much as I may feel various other sorts of kinship with them, first and foremost as human beings.

      Pabelmont, I can very much connect with your non-Jewish/Jewish culture. But that is a culture of dialog, influences and cultural hybridity and ultimately the source of my former philosemitism. If I may name a not well known early voice in this context: Moritz Lazarus, but of course it would be Zionists like Martin Buber too, as I obviously can’t ignore the context here on German ground. But I also find it hard to ignore that Zionist considered positions of people like Moritz Lazarus, defensive actions, the necessity to fight antisemitism with reason futile, claiming that their idea would make it disappear forever once “the Jews” had their own state.

      • Citizen says:

        Finns, Indios no, Palestinians, yes. Affinity beyond merely recongnizing any human as human, I guess because they can talk, even if one does not know the particular language. Reminds me of nascent Aryan theory. What’s the difference?

        • Citizen,

          I was referring to my personal “tribe”, which in fact includes many intersecting tribes of greater or lesser significance. Finns might be part of my western/European or nordic cultural tribe, while Indios might be part of my solidarity or anti-imperialist tribe, or my Romance language tribe. My sense of affinity for Palestinians is different. I have lived in their land, I am familiar with their culture, I consider myself a part of their struggle. They are closer to my heart than any other people, except my own – and sometimes even more than my own.

  4. Elliot says:

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    • “I consider Jews part of my tribe, but I also consider Palestinians part of my tribe …”, Isn’t that because you are an Israeli? Non-Israeli Jews don’t feel that Palestinians are their tribe – they extend that feeling to the non-Jews they grew up with.>

      It is because I am an Israeli, but also because I feel that the Palestinian struggle is my own (as do many non-Israelis, both Jewish and non-Jewish). I do not share their past (although I know it and identify with it) or their language (yet), but I do feel that I share their present and their future.

      • I clicked reply too soon. I had meant to address the rest of Elliot’s message as well.

        There is a double bind in your argument: if there is no barrier between the feeling you have for non-Jews and Jews, then the concept of Jewish peoplehood fails. If there is, then do you feel greater kinship to the Jewish members of your family than the non-Jewish ones? Does the weaker feeling of peoplehood triumph over the sense of family?

        I didn’t make this completely clear in my post. There are various levels of identity and belonging. Personal relationships exist in their own right. The bonds I have with family and friends are completely independent of nationality or religion. This has no bearing on the concept of peoplehood and the feeling that I have for other Jews with whom I may or may not have a personal relationship.

        Activism on Israel/Palestine is also not a marker of Jewishness

        Sometimes it is – if your activism stems from the fact that you feel a unique responsibility or connection, as a Jew. In a way, it is the “good twin” of Zionism.

        I think your other concept, that of religious observance infused with relevant, moral meaning is the path forward for contemporary Jewishness.

        I agree, but I don’t think it’s enough, and it often reduces Judaism to “folkways” (to borrow another term from Kaplan). There has got to be more to it than “observing” custom and ritual – as infused as it may be with modern relevance.

  5. LeaNder says:

    I don’t like this paragraph, since it doesn’t address that the Zionist claim that antisemitism would disappear once the Jewish state existed, and all Jews were neatly separated from whatever nation they lived in.

    Like many of his contemporaries, he believed (but erroneously) that anti-Semitism was merely a passing fancy, a phenomenon engendered by reactionary times, which could be explained away in writings or addresses. He maintained that the Jews were united only by means of their religious history (“Treu und Frei,” p. 77). In this case as in many others, when considering Jewish matters, Lazarus follows the dictates of his desires rather than the interests of the commonweal (“Gemeingeist”). Much cited for apologetic purposes is his definition of the concept “nation,” as the essential and only objective characteristic of which he takes not the similarity of customs and morals, of territory, religion, and race, but the bond of language.

    Considering the dominance of Prussia, unfortunately many 19 century liberals felt that Prussia’s force was needed to unite Germany, and thus get the more French influenced South under control.

  6. Citizen says:

    “I don’t think I need to go into why these two dominant components of Jewish consciousness are so destructive. Let it suffice to say that a sense of ethnic destiny (see Sand) and a culture of victimhood are a noxious mix that can only end badly for Jews and non-Jews alike.”

    And more specifically, this noxious mix will be inhaled when Iran is attacked because every regime in the world will finally be forced to choose sides right out in the open. Identity and values will be declared. Modern Iran has no legacy of Imperialism. Rather, it’s modern history is based on the defeat of Imperialism.

    ISRAEL: There is a model here: The USA. The early American colonists were escaping religious persecution. Once these colonists established a toehold, they brandished their superior weaponry, backed by a superpower of the day across the sea, and no longer deemed it expedient to pow-wow with the natives who were viewed as merely part of the landscape, like the soil to be dug, the land to be cleared, the water to be channeled, the deer and elk to be used as
    survival and material profit dictated. What would Jesus do was answered by an extension of Divine Providence: the myth of Manifest Destiny; this evolved into the modern notion of
    American exceptionalism. This notion itself was borrowed from the English brothers across the sea, from Britannia rules the waves, and the White Man’s Burden. Colonialism. The Nuremberg Trials put the kabosh
    on this type of justification for the Western World; Ike finished it when he stopped England, France and the young state of Israel from their aggressive partnership to keep colonialism alive post Nuremberg. Berlin Wall fell, USSR folded. Yet Israel continues without defined borders, espanding its reach and milking the resources of the original natives, cleansing the ethnics best it can under the eyes of the world, aided and abetted by the neocon-PEP dinosaurs who’s world view and overt and covert operations work against the grain of enlightened morality and long-term practical world peace in the interest of disguised oliarchy with a universal plutocratic base.

    ANTISEMITISM: The backside of the implemented zionist coin, it’s viable currency. The gold-backing is Israel, a modern aggressive nuclear state given deepest authority by Auschwitz, by Western white Christian guilt. Inflation is weakening its buying power. Like the American dollar fresh off the non-stop printing press, even the foreign investors are starting to look elsewhere for some security that will last.

    “I see nothing wrong with the idea of peoplehood in and of itself.” That’s the rub. Every imperialistic enterprise in history has sung its song in the name of the people. (Even its titular opponent, Communism, has song that song, giving the world the likes of Stalin’s regime). “We, the people.”
    Who are we? That’s a problem now for all Americans. Our foreign policy
    has yet to be targeted as our domestic policy is being tested–but that day is coming–and Israel will bring it to bright light. American Jewish identity
    will be the decisive actor–initially.

  7. Avi says:

    Very good post, Shmuel.

    An observation:

    I consider Jews part of my tribe, but I also consider Palestinians part of my tribe, in a way that just doesn’t work for Finns or Indios – as much as I may feel various other sorts of kinship with them, first and foremost as human beings.

    That’s because you have a shared collective memory with Palestinians and you’ve interacted with them over the years. So, your shared experiences and knowledge of certain events, places customs and topics brings you together. It’s that sense of familiarity that makes some people more comfortable around one group or another. But, that familiarly can differ in meaning and scope from one person to the next.

    Still, in an article you posted back in the summer you indicated that when you crossed over to East Jerusalem you felt different, or awkward. I don’t recall the exact words you used, but you made it clear that you experienced some unease. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Nonetheless, Jewish holidays and tradition can bring a Jew from China and a Jew from the U.S. closer together.

    Still, this camaraderie depends on what the individual considers to be an important common denominator, so to speak. For some it could be language, for others it could be religion, traditions, customs and so on.

    If Phil traveled to Denmark and came across a Danish Jew, while at the same time he came across an American Christian. To whom of the two would he feel closer affinity? I’m really curious what Phil’s answer would be.

    • Citizen says:

      Phil is over half a century old. Does he have any close gentile friends other than his own wife? I don’t recall he ever mentioned one, or any.

    • Still, in an article you posted back in the summer you indicated that when you crossed over to East Jerusalem you felt different, or awkward. I don’t recall the exact words you used, but you made it clear that you experienced some unease.

      Here’s the link to that article.

      Fear and barriers don’t preclude affinity. On the contrary, the affinity is what drives me to overcome the fear and barriers.

      • potsherd says:

        I wonder, Shmuel – can we feel kinship with another people if that people does not feel kinship with us, as well?

        What an awful thing it is, to reach out a band to a brother and have it slapped away as a stranger or an enemy.

        • Good point, potsherd. I think the problem starts from generalisation – generalisation by individual Palestinians who consider me an enemy simply because I am an Israeli Jew, and the generalisation I might make that this rejection is representative of all Palestinians. I have met enough Palestinians who have in fact welcomed me as a brother to reinforce my own feelings of brotherhood. But I’m small potatoes. Look at people like Nurit Peled and Rami Elhanan, whose daughter Smadar was murdered by a Palestinian in the name of the Palestinian cause. Nurit wrote the following:

          When my little girl was killed, a reporter asked me how I was willing to accept condolences from the other side. I replied without hesitation that I refused it: When representatives of Netanyahu’s government came to offer their condolences I took my leave and would not sit with them. For me, the other side, the enemy, is not the Palestinian people. For me the struggle is not between Palestinians and Israelis, nor between Jews and Arabs. The fight is between those who seek peace and those who seek war. My people are those who seek peace. My sisters are the bereaved mothers, Israeli and Palestinian, who live in Israel and in Gaza and in the refugee camps. My brothers are the fathers who try to defend their children from the cruel occupation, and are, as I was, unsuccessful in doing so. Although we were born into a different history and speak different tongues there is more that unites us than that which divides us.

      • Avi says:

        Fear and barriers don’t preclude affinity. On the contrary, the affinity is what drives me to overcome the fear and barriers.

        That’s a wise point, Shmuel.

    • MRW says:

      Still, this camaraderie depends on what the individual considers to be an important common denominator, so to speak. For some it could be language, for others it could be religion, traditions, customs and so on.

      I’m way more shallow than the rest of you. My common denominator is having a great laugh together. At whatever, even those things and beliefs we both hold dear. Some of the most insufferable people I know think and believe as I do (but they think that is the zenith of awareness or achievement, or damn close, which no one but an idiot would believe of him or herself). I’m not being facetious, I think horse laughter cures a lot of ills.

  8. VR says:

    A confession of affinity is much easier to communicate than a confession of fear, mistrust and estrangement. People identify with what they have been immersed in from infancy to adulthood, and essentially the communications within that environment. Unfortunately religion, ethnicity, race, nationalism, are not only used as points of affinity but developed as walls and division and are grounds of exploitation. Those within a household to the political offices of a nation learn well and communicate these “differences” to their own advantage.

    The collective mind (if I can use this term), our synchronicity that creates culture and civilization, unfortunately unbeknown to many, is influenced and terribly enslaved from the cradle to the grave. What is it that makes us march forward to our own collective detriment? Who wields this power of influence – why is it exerted – and what can we do to stop this exploitation? It is imperative that we grasp what is going on that influences us to think and act in predictable ways – to the benefit of the few.

    We are subject to use and knowledge of science in an experimental petri dish called society, where all the tools of human knowledge are being used to mold us to a conformity – by those “who know what’s best for us.” It is an artificial construction of “reality.” We spend most of our time not as individual’s, but communicating with each other – we are the subjects of mass communication. This is turn effects what we “see” and “hear” in a collective sense.

    Social experience shapes the details of brain psychology, the infants brain is made to fit into the culture in which it was born. Six month old’s can hear and make every sound in virtually every human language, the very physical existence of neurons to the tune of 50% are naturally forced to commit pre-programmed cell suicide to fit into the larger framework of the cultural pattern. Babies, one or two years old that see another infant hurt, or hear it crying, do not merely ape the child’s distress, they share it empathetically.

    Children cram their powers of perception into a conformist mold, connecting their attention to what others see. Perceptions become the slaves of social commands – it has been proven that children will come to accept and like food that they have disliked previously by putting them into a situation of peer pressure with other children for a period of time, as an example.

    Words are the ultimate repository of the herd influence. What we perceive with words is influenced through generations of men, women, families, tribes, and nations – insights, value judgments, ignorance and beliefs are communicated through words. Word’s literally carry the impact of either life or death in many instances.

    So what am I saying with all of this? Actually this discussion on the post only does so deep, we are not merely dealing with some set of personal preferences that are innocuously dangled before us as some objective choice. There are both harmless manifestations of of cultural inculcation and those which are collectively influenced in order to drive a mass of humanity under the direction and control of the few. People need to make these distinctions, rather than thinking they are at some smorgasbord where they objectively make their own “choices.”

  9. clenchner says:

    A stronger Jewish identity that is not based on Zionism or attachment to Israel is probably part of what help the Jewish people overcome the damage that Israel has wrought.
    That identity might be religious, post Zionist Israeli, secular Yiddishist or even what Shmuel refers to.
    Many of my friends get it right away when asked, what is more important: Israel or Judaism? Israel or Jewish identity? Strong supporters and opponents of Israel are often guilty of thinking in terms of decades instead of centuries and millenia. All this stuff with the Palestinians will some day be history, not politics. And when that finally happens, will it be history that strengthens our people, or weakens it? I’m in the camp of those who see it as a weakening force. Jews need to pay more attention to plan b.

  10. yourstruly says:

    A Palestinian friend once asked me “Since you don’t believe in God, why do you consider yourself a Jew? My answer, “I’ll be a Jew at least until antisemitism ceases to exist.” Right now I’d amend that statement to “until all forms of racism cease to exist. Once again, has to do with my belief that it’s one’s identification with the slave that makes the Jew, and that everything else is either ornamental or superfluous.

  11. MHughes976 says:

    I agree with the basic proposition that loyalty to all humanity is not negated, but in a way is expressed, by having special affiliations. It is usually through these – families, localities, nations with a political life, religious organisations even internet discussion groups – that we do what good we can do in this world.
    The dangerous steps are to become so committed to Us that we think nothing of Them or so little that their rights, interests, needs count for nothing or secondly that we begin to think that shared affiliation among Us amounts to objective, even unalterable, difference between Us and Them. The latter is the core error of racism, I suppose. We’re all in danger of taking these dangerous steps so slowly that we don’t recognise them until they’re lodged deep in our brains.
    I feel some pangs of worry about the view taken by yourstruly in which an identity can be imposed on someone by an external force which is itself based on a terrible error.

    • The dangerous steps are to become so committed to Us that we think nothing of Them or so little that their rights, interests, needs count for nothing or secondly that we begin to think that shared affiliation among Us amounts to objective, even unalterable, difference between Us and Them.

      Kaplan put it as follows:

      The problem is how to prevent … particularism from giving rise to chauvinism… That problem has to be solved not by expecting every nation to renounce its nationhood, but by having it incorporate universal ideals into its own civilization. The function of Judaism is to imbue the Jewish People with those universal ideals and values which make its peoplehood not only safe but good for the world.

      I feel some pangs of worry about the view taken by yourstruly in which an identity can be imposed on someone by an external force which is itself based on a terrible error.

      I feel the same.

      • potsherd says:

        Shared identity is not forced on a group by an external force so much as it is internalized by the group as a response to the external force.

        • yourstruly says:

          Yes, and in the case of Israeli Jews and their Jewish supporters elsewhere, the shared identification is no longer with the slave, it’s with the slavemaster, with colonialism being the external force bringing about this change. It’s what colonialism does to its practitioners, even when they’re from groups which, based on their history of being persecuted, should have known better. Identifying with the slave , however acquired, is an expression of the you are I, I am you, we are one.

  12. Keith says:

    SHMUEL- Your post on what it is to be a Jew is strictly from an individual perspective, hence, not particularly relevant to the Israel/Palestine conflict. In contrast, Phil’s, while deeply personal, attempts to delve into the relationship between Jewish “kinship” and Jewish power, highly relevant to the relationship between organized American Jewry, Zionism, Israel, and US Middle East policy. If one takes the position that Jews are merely individuals who happen to be Jewish, and who function more-or-less as individuals, then the discussion is not particularly germane to the conflict in the Middle East. On the other hand, if one approaches the situation from the perspective that a significant number of Jews are organized around a unifying ideology that depicts Jews as a “people apart” from the host society, and that the host society is forever and always anti-Semitic and a threat to survival, and that power accumulation and sanctuary (Israel) are necessary defensive activities, then we seem to be moving towards an understanding of the psychological and organizational dynamics to explain Zionism and organized Jewry’s strong support for Israel and current US Middle East policy. I think that this is what Phil is attempting to explore, at least I hope so.

    • Your post on what it is to be a Jew is strictly from an individual perspective, hence, not particularly relevant to the Israel/Palestine conflict. In contrast, Phil’s, while deeply personal, attempts to delve into the relationship between Jewish “kinship” and Jewish power, highly relevant to the relationship between organized American Jewry, Zionism, Israel, and US Middle East policy.

      Phil writes from his past and present experiences, and I write from mine. He feels that he is part of a powerful elite that looks out for its own, and tries to come to grips with it. I have been privileged, but in different ways (mostly as the member of an ethnic ruling class in Israel).

      I disagree that my post is any less relevant to the I/P conflict, because Holocaust and Israel-centred Jewish identity lies at its heart. The dynamics of Jewish support for Israel are important, but the identity-related mechanisms that drive that support and possible alternatives to them are no less important.

  13. For those of you who might think that this site’s comments verge on the anti-semitic, please look at link to elderofziyon.blogspot.com or any of the blog links posted on it. For virulent pro-Zionism (and plain straightforward lies of course) there is nothing much to beat it.

  14. Neoconvict says:

    I identify with BBQ, Baby Ruths, pate, and Chinese food.

    I don’t care about identity. It’s a bunch of hand-wringing to me. I prefer that it is of your own making or, at least, not passed down and imprisons you. All I want to know is: can you buy/rent some land without restrictions, use your abilities for your benefit without prejudice, and take care of your family in a just society.

    You either help make this happen for all or get in the way for your personal interests. Your choice is your ultimate identity to me.

    • Neoconvict (nice name, btw),

      Do your really not care about identity – gender, political, linguistic, national, cultural, familial, personal, religious, etc.? Believing that it is individual and should not interfere with equality is not the same as not caring.

      A book I can’t recommend enough on the subject is Amin Maalouf’s On Identity.